Confession of the Faith that is in us, when justly called for, is so indispensable a due all owe to the Glory of the Sovereign GOD, that it is ranked among the Duties of the first Commandment, such as Prayer is; and therefore by Paul yoked with Faith itself, as necessary to salvation: with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Our Lord Christ himself, when he was accused of his Doctrine, considered simply as a matter of fact by Preaching, refused to answer; because, as such, it lay upon evidence, and a matter of testimony of others; unto whom therefore he refers himself: But when both the High-Priest and Pilate expostulate his Faith, and what he held himself to be; he without any demur at all, cheerfully makes his Declaration, That he was the Son of God; so to the High-Priest: and that he was a King, and born to be a King; thus to Pilate. Though upon the uttering of it his life lay at stake; Which holy Profession of his is celebrated for our example, 1 Tim. vi. 13.
Confessions, when made by a company of Professors of Christianity jointly meeting to that end, the most genuine and natural use of such Confessions is, That under the same form of words, they express the substance of the same common salvation or unity of their faith; whereby speaking the same things, they show themselves perfectly joined in the same mind, and in the same judgment, 1 Cor i.10.
And accordingly such a transaction is to be looked upon but as a meet or fit medium or means whereby to express that their common faith and salvation, and no way to be made use of as an imposition upon any: Whatever is of force or constraint in matters of this nature, causeth them to degenerate from the name and nature of Confessions, and turns them from being Confessions of Faith, into Exaetions and Impositions of Faith.
And such common Confessions of the Orthodox faith, made in simplicity of heart by any such body of Christians, with concord among themselves, ought to be entertained by all others that love the truth as it is in Jesus, with an answerable rejoicing: For if the unanimous opinions and assertions but in some few points of Religion, and that when by two Churches, namely, that of Jerusalem, and the Messengers of Antioch met, assisted by some of the Apostles, were by the Believers of those times received with so much joy, (as it is said, They rejoiced for the consolation) much more this is to be done, when the whole substance of Faith, and form of wholesome words shall be declared by the Messengers of a multitude of Churches, though wanting those advantages of Counsel and Authority of the Apostles, which that Assembly had.
Which acceptation is then more specially due, when these shall (to choose) utter and declare their Faith, in the same substance for matter, yea, words, for the most part, that other Churches and Assemblies, reputed the most Orthodox, have done before them: For upon such a correspondency, all may see that actually accomplished, which the Apostle did but exhort unto, and pray for, in those two more eminent Churches of the Corinthians and the Romans, (and so in them for all the Christians of his time) that both Jew and Gentile, that is, men of different persuasions, (as they were) might glorify GOD with one mind and with one mouth. And truly, the very turning of the Gentiles to the owning of the same Faith, in the substance of it, with the Christian Jew (though differing in greater points than we do from our Brethren) is presently after dignified by the Apostle with this style, That it is the Confession of Jesus Christ himself; not as the Object only, but as the Author and Maker thereof: I will confess to thee (saith Christ to God) among the Gentiles. So that in all such accords, Christ is the great and first Confessor; and we, and all our Faith uttered by Us, are but the Epistles, (as Paul) and Confessions (as Isaiah there) of their Lord and ours; He, but expressing what is written in his heart, through their hearts and mouths, to the glory of God the Father: And shall we not all rejoice herein, when as Christ himself is said to do it upon this occasion: as it there also follows, I will sing unto thy Name.
Further, as the soundness and wholesomeness of the matter gives the vigor and life to such Confessions, so the inward freeness, willingness, and readiness of the Spirits of the Confessors do contribute to the beauty and loveliness thereunto: As it is in Prayer to God, so in Confessions made to men. If two or three met, do agree, it renders both, to either the more acceptable. The Spirit of Christ is in himself too free, great and generous a Spirit, to suffer himself to be used by any human arm, to whip men into belief; he drives not, but gently leads into all truth, and persuades men to dwell in the tents of like precious Faith; which would lose of its preciousness and value, if that sparkle of freeness shone not in it: The Character of his People, is to be a willing people in the day of his power (not Manís) in the beauties of holiness, which are the Assemblings of the Saints: one glory of which Assemblings in that first Church, is said to have been, They met with one accord; which is there in that Psalm prophesied of, in the instance of that first Church, for all other that should succeed.
And as this great Spirit is in himself free, when, and how far, and in whom to work, so where and when he doth work, he carrieth it with the same freedom, and is said to be a free Spirit, as he both is, and works in us: And where this Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Now as to this Confession of ours, besides, that a conspicuous conjunction of the particulars mentioned, hath appeared therein: There are also four remarkable Attendants thereon, which added, might perhaps in the eyes of sober and indifferent Spirits, give the whole of this Transaction a room and rank amongst other many good and memorable things of this Age; at least all set together, do cast as clear a gleam and manifestation of Godís Power and Presence, as hath appeared in any such kind of Confessions, made by so numerous a company these later years.
The first, is the Temper (or distemper rather) of the Times, during which, these Churches have been gathering, and which they have run through. All do (out of a general sense) complain that these times have been perilous, or difficult times (as the Apostle foretold); and that in respect to danger from seducing spirits, more perilous than the hottest seasons of Persecution.
We have failed through an Aestuatio, Fluxes and Refluxes of great varieties of Spirits, Doctrines, Opinions and Occurrences, and especially in the matter of Opinions, which have been accompanied in their several seasons, with powerful persuasions and temptations, to seduce those of our way. It is known, men have taken the freedom (notwithstanding what Authority hath interposed to the contrary) to vent and vend their own vain and accursed imaginations, contrary to the great and fixed Truths of the Gospel, insomuch, as to take the whole Round and Circle of Delusions, the Devil hath in this small time, ran; it will be found, that every Truth, of greater or lesser weight, hath by one or the other hand, at one time or another, been questioned and called to the Bar amongst us, yea, and impleaded, under the pretext (which hath some degree of Justice in it) that all should not be bound up to the Traditions of former times, nor take Religion upon trust.
Whence it hath come to pass, that many of the soundest Professors were put upon a new search and disquisition of such Truths, as they had taken for granted, and yet had lived upon the comfort of: to the end they might be able to convince others, and establish their own hearts against that darkness and unbelief, that is ready to close with error, or at least to doubt of the truth, when error is speciously presented. And hereupon we do professedly account it one of the greatest advantages gained out of the Temptations of these Times, yea the honor of the Saints and Ministers of these Nations, That after they had sweetly been exercised in, and had improved practical and experimental Truths, this should be their further Lot, to examine and discuss, and indeed anew to learn over every Doctrinal Truth, both out of the Scriptures, and also with a fresh taste thereof in their own hearts; which is no other than what the Apostle exhorts to, Try all things, hold fast that which is good. Conversion unto God at first, what is it else than a savory and affectionate application, and the bringing home to the heart with spiritual light and life, all truths that are necessary to salvation, together with other lesser Truths? All which we had afore conversion taken in but notionally from common Education and Tradition.
Now that after this first gust those who have been thus converted should be put upon a new probation and search out the Scriptures, not only of all principles explicitly ingredients to Conversion; (unto which the Apostle referreth the Galatians when they had diverted from them) but of all other superstructures as well as fundamentals; and together therewith, anew to experiment the power and sweetness of all these in their own souls: What is this but tried Faith indeed? And equivalent to a new conversion unto the truth? An Anchor that is proved to be sure and steadfast, that will certainly hold in all contrary storms. This was the eminent seal and commendation which those holy Apostles that lived and wrote last (Peter, John and Jude in their Epistles) did set and give to the Christians of the latter part of those primitive times. And besides, it is clear and evident by all the other Epistles, from first to last, that it cost the Apostles as much, and far more care and pains to preserve them they had converted, in the truth, than they had taken to turn them thereunto at first: And it is in itself as great a work and instance of the power of God, that keeps, yea, guards us through faith unto salvation.
Secondly, let this be added (or superadded rather) to give full weight and measure, even to running over, that we have all along this season, held forth (though quarreled with for it by our brethren) this great principle of these times, That amongst all Christian States and Churches, there ought to be vouchsafed a forbearance and mutual indulgence unto Saints of all persuasions, that keep unto, and hold fast the necessary foundations of faith and holiness, in all other matters extra fundamental, whether of Faith or Order.
This to have been our constant principle, we are not ashamed to confess to the whole Christian world. Wherein yet we desire we may be understood, not as if in the abstract we stood indifferent to falsehood or truth, or were careless whether faith or error, in any Truths but fundamental, did obtain or not, so we had our liberty in our petty and smaller differences; or as if to make sure of that, we had cut out this wide cloak for it: No, we profess that the whole, and every particle of that Faith delivered to the Saints (the substance of which we have according to our light here professed) is, as to the propagation and furtherance of it by all Gospel means, as precious to us as our lives; or what can be supposed dear to us; and in our sphere we have endeavored to promote them accordingly: But yet withal, we have and do contend for this, That in the concrete, the persons of all such gracious Saints, they and their errors, as they are in them, when they are but such errors as do and may stand with communion with Christ, though they should not repent of them, as not being convinced of them to the end of their days; that those, with their errors (that are purely spiritual, and intrench and overthrow not civil societies,) as concrete with their persons, should for Christís sake be borne withal by all Christians in the world; and they notwithstanding be permitted to enjoy all Ordinances and spiritual Privileges according to their light, as freely as any other of their brethren that pretend to the greatest Orthodoxy; as having as equal, and as fair a right in and unto Christ, and all the holy things of Christ, that any other can challenge to themselves.
And this doth afford a full and invincible testimony on our behalf, in that whiles we have so earnestly contended for this just liberty of Saints in all the Churches of Christ, we ourselves have no need of it: that is, as to the matter of the profession of Faith which we have maintained together with others: and of this, this subsequent Confession of Faith gives sufficient evidence. So as we have the confidence in Christ, to utter in the words of those two great Apostles, That we have stood fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free (in the behalf of others, rather than ourselves) and having been free, have not made use of our liberty for a cloak of error or maliciousness in ourselves. And yet, lo, whereas from the beginning of the rearing of these Churches, that of the Apostle hath been (by some) prophesied of us, and applied to us, That while we promised (unto others) liberty, we ourselves would become servants of corruption, and be brought in bondage to all sorts of fancies and imaginations, yet the whole world may now see after the experience of many years ran through (and it is manifest by this Confession) that the great and gracious God hath not only kept us in that common unity of the Faith and Knowledge of the Son of God, which the whole Community of Saints have and shall in their Generations come unto, but also in the same Truths, both small and great, that are built thereupon, that any other of the best and more pure Reformed Churches in their best times (which were their first times) have arrived unto: This Confession withal holding forth a professed opposition unto the common errors and heresies of these times.
These two considerations have been taken from the seasons we have gone through.
Thirdly, let the space of time itself, or days, wherein from first to last the whole of this Confession was framed and consented to by the whole of us, be duly considered by sober and ingenious spirits: the whole of days in which we had meetings about it (set aside the two Lordís days, and the first dayís meeting, in which we considered and debated what to pitch upon) were but 11 days, part of which also was spent by some of us in Prayer, others in consulting; and in the end all agreeing. We mention this small circumstance but to this end (which still adds unto the former) That it gives demonstration, not of our freeness and willingness only, but of our readiness and preparedness unto so great a work; which otherwise, and in other Assemblies, hath ordinarily taken up long and great debates, as in such a variety of matters of such concernment, may well be supposed to fall out. And this is no other than what the Apostle Peter exhorts unto, Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason, or account of the hope that is in you. The Apostle Paul saith of the spiritual Truths of the Gospel, That God hath prepared them for those that love him. The inward and innate constitution of the new Creature being in itself such as is suited to all those Truths, as congenial thereunto: But although there be this mutual adaptness between these two, yet such is the mixture of ignorance, darkness and unbelief, carnal reason, pre-occupation of judgment, interest of parties, wantonness in opinion, proud adhering to our own persuasions, and perverse oppositions and averseness to agree with others, and a multitude of such like distempers common to believing man: All which are not only mixed with, but at times (especially in such times as have passed over our heads) are ready to overcloud our judgments, and to cause our eyes to be double, and sometimes prevail as well as lusts, and do bias our wills and affections: And such is their mixture, that although there may be existent an habitual preparedness in menís spirits, yet not always a present readienss to be found, specially not in such a various multitude of men, to make a solemn and deliberate profession of all truths, it being as great a work to find the spirits of the just (perhaps the best of Saints) ready for every truth, as to be prepared to every good work.
It is therefore to be looked at, as a great and special work of the Holy Ghost, that so numerous a company of Ministers, and other principal brethren, should so readily, speedily, and jointly give up themselves unto such a whole Body of Truths that are after godliness.
This argues that they had not their faith to seek; but, as is said of Ezra, that they were ready Scribes, and (as Christ) instructed unto the Kingdom of Heaven, being as the good householders of so many families of Christ, bringing forth of their store and treasury New and Old. It shows these truths had been familiar to them, and they acquainted with them, as with their daily food and provision (as Christís allusion there insinuates): In a word, that so they had preached, and that so their people had believed, as the Apostle speaks upon one like particular occasion. And the Apostle Paul considers (in cases of this nature) the suddenness or length of time, either one way or the other; whether it were in menís forsaking of learning of the truth. Thus the suddenness in the Galatiansí case in leaving the truth, he makes a wonder of it: I marvel that you are SO SOON (that is, in so short a time) removed from the true Gospel unto another. Again on the contrary, in the Hebrews he aggravates their backwardness, That when for the first time you ought to be Teachers, you had need that one teach you the very first principles of the Oracles of God. The Parallel contrary to both these having fallen out in this transaction, may have some ingredient and weight with ingenious spirits in its kind, according to the proportion is put upon either of these forementioned in their adverse kind, and obtain the like special observation.
This accord of ours hath fallen out without having held any correspondency together, or prepared consultation, by which we might come to be advised of one anotherís minds. We allege this not as a matter of commendation in us; no, we acknowledge it to have been a great neglect: And accordingly one of the first proposals for union amongst us was, That there might be a constant correspondence held among the Churches for counsel and mutual edification, so for time to come to present the like omission.
We confess that from the first, every [one], or at least the generality of our Churches, have been in a manner like so many Ships (though holding forth the same general colors) launched singly, and sailing apart and alone on the vast Ocean of these tumultuating times, and they exposed to every wind of Doctrine, under no other conduct than the Word and Spirit, and their particular Elders and principal Brethren, without Associations among ourselves, or so much as holding out common lights to others, whereby to know where we are.
But yet whilst we thus confess to our own shame this neglect, let all acknowledge, that God hath ordered it for his high and greater glory, in that his singular care and power should have watched over each of these, as that all should be found to have steered their course by the same Chart, and to have been bound for one and the same Port, and that upon this general search now made, that the same holy and blessed truths of all sorts, which are current and warrantable amongst all the other Churches of Christ in the world, should be found to be our Lading.
The whole, and every [one] of these things when put together, do cause us (whatever men of prejudiced and opposite spirits may find out to slight them) with a holy admiration, to say, That this is no other than the Lordís doing; and which we with thanksgiving do take from his hand as a special token upon us for good, and doth show that God is faithful and upright towards those that are planted in his house: And that as the Faith was but once for all, and intentionally first delivered unto the Saints; so the Saints, when not abiding scattered, but gathered under their respective Pastors according to Godís heart into an house, and Churches unto the living God, such together are, as Paul forspake it, the most steady and firm pillar and seat of Truth that God hath any where appointed to himself on earth, where his truth is best conserved, and publicly held forth; there being in such Assemblies weekly a rich dwelling of the Word amongst them, that is, a daily open house kept by the means of those good Householders, their Teachers and other Instructors respectively appropriated to them, whom Christ in the virtue of his Ascension, continues to give as gifts to his people, himself dwelling amongst them; to the end that by this, as the most sure standing permanent means, the Saints might be perfected, till we all (even all the Saints in present and future ages) do come by this constant and daily Ordinance of his unto the unity of the Faith and Knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (which though growing on by parts and piecemeal, will yet appear complete, when that great and general Assembly shall be gathered, then when this world is ended, and these dispensations have had their fullness and period) and so that from henceforth (such a provision being made for us) we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of Doctrine.
And finally, this doth give a fresh and recent demonstration, that the great Apostle and High-priest of our profession is indeed ascended into heaven, and continues there with power and care, faithful as a son over his own house, whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end: and shows that he will, as he hath promised, be with his own Institutions to the end of the world.
It is true, that many sad miscarriages, and divisions, breeches, fallings off from holy Ordinances of God, have along this time of tentation (especially in the beginning of it) been found in some of our Churches; and no wonder, if what hath been said be fully considered: Many reasons might further be given hereof, that would be a sufficient Apology, without the help of a retortion upon other Churches (that promised themselves peace) how that more destroying ruptures have befallen them, and that in a wider sphere and compass; which though it should not justify us, yet may serve to stop othersí mouths.
Let Rome glory of the peace in, and obedience of her Children, against the Reformed Churches for their divisions which occurred (especially in the first rearing of them) whilst we all know the causes of their dull and stupid peace to have been carnal interests, worldly correspondencies, and coalitions, strengthened by gratifications of all sorts of men by that Religion, the principles of blind Devotion, Traditional Faith, Ecclesiastical Tyranny, by which she keeps her Children in bondage to this day. We are also certain, that the very same prejudices that from hence they would cast upon the Reformed (if they were just) do lie as fully against those pure Churches raised up by the Apostles themselves in those first times: for as we have heard of their patience, sufferings, consolations, and the transcending gifts poured out, and graces shining in them, so we have heard complaints of their divisions too, of the forsakings of their Assemblies, as the custom or manner of SOME was (which later were in that respect felo de se, and needed no other delivering up to Satan as their punishment, than what they executed upon themselves). We read of the shipwreck also of Faith and a good Conscience, and overthrowings of the faith of SOME; and still but of some not all, nor the most: which is one piece of an Apology the Apostle again and again inserts into future ages, and through mercy we have the same to make
And truly we take the confidence professedly to say, that these tentations common to the purest Churches of Saints separated from the mixture of the world, though they grieve us (for who is offended, and we burn not?), yet they do not at all stumble us, as to the truth of our way, had they been many more: We say it again, these stumble us no more (as to that point) than it doth offend us against the power of Religion itself, to have seen, and to see daily in particular persons called out and separated from the world by an effectual work of conversion, that they for a while do suffer under disquietments, vexations, turmoils, unsettlements of spirit, that they are tossed with tempests and horrid tentations, such as they had not in their former estate, whilst they walked according to the course of this world: For Peter hath sufficiently instructed us whose business it is to raise such storms, even the Devilís; and also whose design it is, that after they have suffered a while, thereby they shall be settled, perfected, established, that have so suffered, even the God of all Grace. And look what course of dispensation God holds to Saints personally, he doth the like to bodies of Saints in Churches and the Devil the same for his part too: And that consolatory Maxim of the Apostle, God shall tread down Satan under your feet shortly, which Paul uttereth concerning the Church of Rome, shows how both God and Satan have this very hand therein; for he speaks that very thing in reference unto their divisions, as the coherence clearly manifests; and so you have both designs expressed at once.
Yea, we are not a little induced to think, that the divisions, breaches, etc., of those primitive Churches would not have been so frequent among the people themselves, and not the Elders only, had not the freedom, liberties, and rights of Members (the Brethren, we mean) been stated and exercised in those Churches, the same which we maintain and contend for to be in ours.
Yea (which perhaps may seem more strange to many) had not those Churches been constituted of members enlightened further than with notional and traditional knowledge, by a new and more powerful light of the Holy Ghost, wherein they had been made partakers of the Holy ghost and the heavenly gift, and their hearts had tasted the good Word of god, and the Powers of the world to come, and of such Members at lowest, there had not fallen out those kinds of divisions among them.
For Experience hath shown, that the common sort of mere Doctrinal Professors (such as the most are nowadays), whose highest education is but freedom from moral scandal, joined with devotion to Christ through mere Education, such as in many Turks is found towards Mohammed, that these finding and feeling themselves not much concerned in the active part of Religion, so they may have the honor (especially upon a Reformation of a new Refinement) that themselves are approved Members, admitted to the Lordís Supper, and their Children to the Ordinance of Baptism; they regard not other matters (as Gallio did not), but do easily and readily give up themselves unto their Guides, being like dead fishes carried with the common stream; whereas those that have a further renewed Light by a work of the Holy Ghost, whether saving or temporary, are upon the quite contrary grounds apt to be busy about, and inquisitive into, what they are to receive and practice, or wherein their Consciences are professedly concerned and involved: And thereupon they take the freedom to examine and try the spirits, whether of God or no: And from hence are more apt to dissatisfaction, and from thence to run into division, and many of such proving to be enlightened but with a temporary, not saving Faith (who have such a work of the Spirit upon them, and profession in them, as will and doth approve itself to the judgment of the Saints, and ought to be so judged, until they be otherwise discovered) who at long-run, prove hypocrites, through indulgence unto Lusts, and then out of their Lusts persist to hold up these divisions unto breach of, or departings from, Churches, and the Ordinances of God, and God is even with them for it, they waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived; and even many of those that are sincere, through a mixture of darkness and erroneousness in their Judgments, are for a season apt out of Conscience to be led away with the error of others, which lie in wait to deceive.
Insomuch as the Apostle upon the example of those first times, forseeing also the like events in following generations upon the causes, hath been bold to set this down as a ruled Case, that likewise in other Churches so constituted and de facto emprivileged as that of the Church of Corinth was (which single Church, in the Sacred Records about it, is the completest Mirror of Church Constitution, Order, and Government, and Events thereupon ensuing, of any one Church whatever that we have a story of), his Maxim is, There must be also divisions amongst you; he setly inserts an [ALSO] in the case, as that which had been his own observation, and that which would be epi to polu the fate of the other Churches like thereunto, so prophesieth he: And he speaks this as peremptorily, as he doth elsewhere in that other, We must through tribulations enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: Yea, and that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution: There is a [MUST] upon both alike; and we bless God, that we have run through both, and do say, and we say no more, That as it was then, so it is now, in both respects.
However, such hath been the powerful hand of Godís providence in these, which have been the worst of our Trials, That out of an approved Experience and Observation of the Issue, we are able to add that other part of the Apostleís Prediction, That therefore such rents must be, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you; which holy issue God (as having aimed at it therein) doth frequently and certainly bring about in Churches, as he doth bring upon them that other fate of division, Let them therefore look unto it, that are the Authors of such disturbances, as the Apostle warneth, Gal. V. 10. The experiment is this, That we have seen, and do daily see, that multitudes of holy and precious souls, and (in the Holy Ghostís word) approved Saints, have been, and are the more rooted and grounded by means of these shakings, and do continue to cleave the faster to Christ, and the purity of his Ordinances, and value them the more by this cost God hath put them to for the enjoying of them, Who having been planted in the House of the Lord, have flourished in the Courts of our God, in these evil times, to show that the Lord is upright. And this experimented event from out of such divisions, hath more confirmed us, and is a louder Apology for us, than all that our opposites are able from our breaches to allege to prejudice us.
We will add a few words for conclusion, and give a more particular account of this our Declaration. In drawing up this Confession of Faith, we have had before us the Articles of Religion, approved and passed by both Houses of Parliament, after advice had with an Assembly of Divines, called together by them for that purpose. To which Confession, for the substance of it, we fully assent, as do our Brethren of New England, and the Churches also of Scotland, as each in their general Synods have testified.
A few things we have added for obviating some erroneous Opinions, that have been more broadly and boldly here of late maintained by the Asserters, than in former times; and made other additions and alterations in method, here and there, and some clearer Explanations, as we found occasion.
We have endeavored throughout, to hold such Truths in this our Confession, as are more properly termed matters of Faith; and what is of Church-order, we dispose in certain Propositions by itself. To this course we are led by the Example of the Honorable Houses of Parliament, observing what was established, and what omitted by them in that Confession the Assembly presented to them. Who thought it is not convenient to have matters of Discipline and Church Government put into a Confession of Faith, especially the particulars thereof, as then were, and still are controverted and under dispute by men Orthodox and found in Faith. The 30th cap. Therefore of that Confession, as it was presented to them by the Assebmly, which is of Church Censures, their Use, Kinds, and in whom placed: As also cap. 31, of Synods and Councils, by whom to be called, of what force in their Decrees and Determinations. And the 4th Paragr. of the 20th cap., which determines what Opinions and Practices disturb the peace of the Church, and how such Disturbers ought to be proceeded against by the Censures of the Church, and punished by the Civil Magistrate. Also a great part of the 24th cap. of Marriage and Divorce. These were such doubtful assertions, and so unsuitable to a Confession of Faith, as the Honorable Houses in their great Wisdom thought fit to lay them aside: There being nothing that tends more to heighten Dissensions among Brethren, than to determine and adopt the manner of their difference, under so high a Title, as to be an Article of our Faith: So that there are two whole Chapters, and some Paragraphs in other Chapters in their Confession, that we have upon this account omitted; and the rather do we give this notice, because that Copy of the Parl. followed by us, is in few menís hands; the other as it came from the Assembly, being approved of in Scotland, was printed and hastened into the world, before the Parl. had declared their Resolutions about it; which was not till June 20, 1648, and yet hat been, and continueth to be the Copy (ordinarily) only sold, printed, and reprinted for these 11 years.
After the 19th cap. of the Law, we have added a cap. of the Gospel, it being a Title that may not well be omitted in a Confession of Faith: In which Chapter, what is dispersed, and by intimation in the Assembliesí Confession, with some litle addition, is here brought together, and more fully, under one head.
That there are not Scriptures annexed, as in some Confessions (though in divers others itís otherwise), we give the same account as did the Reverend Assembly in the same case; which was this: ëThe Confession being large, and so framed, as to meet with the common Errors, ëIf the Scriptures should have been alleged with any clearness, and by showing where the strength of the proof lieth, it would have required a Volume.í
We say further, it being our utmost end in this (as it is indeed of a Confession) humbly to give an account what we hold and assert in these matters; that others, especially the Churches of Christ may judge of us accordingly: This we aimed at, and not so much to instruct others, or convince gainsayers. These are the proper works of other Institutions of Christ, and are to be done in the strength of express Scripture. A Confession is an Ordinance of another nature.
What we have laid down and asserted about Churches and their Government, we humbly conceive to be the Order which Christ himself hath appointed to be observed, we have endeavored to follow Scripture light; and those also that went before us according to that Rule, desirous of nearest uniformity with Reforming Churches, as with our Brethren in New England, so with others, that differ from them and us.
The Models and Platforms of this subject laid down by learned men, and practiced by Churches, are various: We do not judge it brotherly, or grateful, to insist upon comparisons, as some have done; but this Experience teacheth, That the variety, and possibly the Disputes and Emulations arising thence, have much strengthened, if not fixed, this unhappy persuasion in the minds of some learned and good men, namely, That there is no settled Order laid down in Scripture; but itís left to the Prudence of the Christian Magistrate, to compose or make a choice of such a Form as is most suitable and consistent with their Civil Government. Where this Opinion is entertained in the persuasion of Governors, there, Churches asserting their Power and Order to be jure divino, and the appointment of Jesus Christ, can have no better nor more honorable Entertainment, than a Toleration or Permission.
Yet herein there is this remarkable advantage to all parties that differ, about what is in Government is of Christ's appointment; in that such Magistrates have a far greater latitude in conscience, to tolerate and permit the several forms of each so bound up in their persuasion, than they have to submit unto what the Magistrate shall impose: And thereupon the Magistrate exercising and indulgency and forbearance, with protection and encouragement to the people of God, so differing from him, and amongst themselves: Doth therein discharge as great a faithfulness to Christ, and love to his people, as can any way be supposed and expected from any Christian Magistrate, of what persuasion soever he is. And where this clemency from Governors is shown to any sort of persons, or Churches of Christ, upon such a principle, it will in equity produce this just effect, That all that so differ from him, and amongst themselves, standing in equal and alike difference from the principle of such a Magistrate, he is equally free to give alike liberty to them, one as well as the other.
This faithfulness in our Governors we do with thankfulness to God acknowledge, and to their everlasting honor, which appeared much in the late Reformation. The Hierarchy, Common Prayer-Book, and all other things grievous to Godís People, being removed, they made choice of an Assembly of learned men, to advise what Government and Order is meet to be established in the room of these things; and because it was known there were different opinions (as always hath been among godly men) about forms of Church Government, there was by the Ordinance first sent forth to call an Assembly, not only a choice made of persons of several persuasions, to sit as Members there, but liberty given, to a lesser number, if dissenting, to report their Judgments and Reasons, as well and as freely as the major part.
Hereupon the Honorable House of Commons (an Indulgence we hope will never be forgotten) finding by Papers received from them, that the Members of the Assembly were not like to compose differences among themselves, so as to join in the same Rule for Church Government, did order further as followeth: That a Committee of Lords and Commons, etc., do take into consideration the differences of the Opinions in the Assembly of Divines in point of Church government, and to endeavor a union if it be possible; and in case that cannot be done, to endeavor the finding out some way, how far tender consciences, who can not in all things submit to the same Rule which that be established, may be born according to the Word, and as may stand with the Public Peace.
By all which it is evident, the Parliament purposed not to establish the Rule of Church Government with such rigor, as might not permit and bear with a practice different from what they had established: In persons and Churches of different principles, if occasion were. And this Christian Clemency and indulgence in our Governors, hath been the foundation of that Freedom and Liberty, in the managing of Church affairs, which our Brethren, as well as WE, that differ from them, do now, and have many years enjoyed.
The Honorable Houses by several Ordinances of Parliament after much consultation, having settled Rules for Church Government, and such an Ecclesiastical Order as they judged would best joint with the Laws and Government of the Kingdom, did publish them, requiring the practice hereof throughout the Nation; and in particular, by the Min. of the Pr. of Lon. But (upon the former reason, or the like charitable consideration) these Rules were not imposed by them under any Penalty, or rigorous enforcement, though frequently urged thereunto by some.
Our Reverend Brethren of the Province of London, having considered of these Ordinances, and the Church Government laid down in them, declared their Opinions to be, That there is not a complete Rule in those Ordinances; also that there are many necessary things not yet established, and some things wherein their consciences are not so fully satisfied. These Brethren, in the same Paper, have published also their joint Resolution to practice in all things according to the Rule of the Word, and according to these Ordinances, so far as they conceive them [to] correspond to it, and in so doing, they trust they shall not grieve the Spirit of the truly godly, nor give any just occasion to them that are contrary minded, to blame their proceedings.
We humbly conceive that (WE being dissatisfied in these things as our Brethren) the like liberty was intended by the Honorable Houses, and may be taken by us of the Congregational way (without blame or grief to the spirits of those Brethren at least), to resolve, or rather to continue in the same Resolution and Practice in these matters, which indeed were our practices in times of greatest opposition, and before this Reformation was begun.
And as our Brethren the Ministers of London, drew up and published their opinions and apprehensions about Church Government into an entire System; so we now give the like public account of our Consciences, and the Rules by which we have constantly practiced hitherto; which we have here drawn up, and do present. Whereby it will appear how much or how little we differ in these things from our Presbyterian Brethren.
And we trust there is no just cause by which any man, either for our differing from the present settlement, it being out of Conscience, and not out of contempt, or our differences one from another, being not willful, should charge either of us with that odious reproach of Schism. And indeed, if not for our differing from the State settlement, much less because we differ from our Brethren, our differences being in some lesser things, and circumstances only, as themselves acknowledge. And let it be further considered, that we have not broken from them or their Order by these differences (but rather they from us), and in that respect we less deserve their censure; our practice being no other than what it was in our breaking from Episcopacy, and long before Presbytery, or any such form as now they are in, was taken up by them; and we will not say how probable it is, that the yoke of Episcopacy had been upon our neck to this day, if some such way (as formerly, and now is, and hath been termed Schism) had not with much suffering been then practiced, and since continued in.
For Novelty wherewith we are likewise both charged by the Enemies of both, it is true, in respect of the public and open Profession, either of Presbytery or Independency, this Nation hath been a stranger to each way, itís possible, ever since it hath been Christian; though for ourselves we are able to trace the footsteps of an Independent Congregational way in the ancientest customs of the Churches; as also in the Writings of our soundest Protestant Divines, and (that which we are much satisfied in) a full concurrence throughout all in the substantial parts of Church Government, with our Reverend Brethren in the old Puritan Non-conformists, who being instant in Prayer and much sufferings, prevailed in the Lord, and we reap with joy what they sowed in tears. Our Brethren also that are for Presbyterial Subordinations, profess what is of weight against Novelty for their way.
And now therefore seeing the Lord, in whose hand is the heart of Princes, hath put into the hearts of our Governors, to tolerate and permit (as they have done many years) persons of each persuasion, to enjoy their Consciences, though neither come up to the Rule established by Authority: And that which is more, to give us both Protection, and the same encouragement, that the most devoted Conformists in those former Superstitious Times enjoyed; yea, and by a public Law to establish this Liberty for time to come; and yet further, in the midst of our fears, to set over us a Prince that owns this Establishment, and cordially resolves to secure our Churches in the enjoyment of these Liberties, if we abuse them not to the disturbance of the Civil Peace.
This should be a very great engagement upon the hearts of all,
though of different persuasions, to endeavor our utmost, jointly to
promote the honor and prosperity of such a Government and Governors by
whatsoever means, which in our Callings as Ministers of the Gospel, and
as Churches of Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, we are any way able to
do; as also to be peaceably disposed one towards another, and with
mutual toleration to love as brethren, notwithstanding such
differences: remembering, as itís very equal we should, the differences
that are between Presbyterians and Independents
being differences between fellow-servants, and neither of them having
authority given from God or Man, to impose their Opinions, one more
than the other. That our Governors after so solemn an establishment,
should thus bear with us both, in our greater differences from their
Rule: and after this, for any of us to take a fellow-servant by the throat, upon the account of a lesser reckoning, and nothing due to him
upon it, is to forget, at least not to exercise, that compassion and
tenderness we have found, where we had less ground to challenge or
Our prayer unto God is, That whereto we have already attained, we all may walk by the same rule, and that wherein we are otherwise minded, God would reveal it to us in his due time.
Page Updated: 12/11/2008